Very often, the addict, the member of a family system who is showing the most distress, is sent off to treatment. The family says, “Fix the broken one!” and goes about with its business, expecting to get the addict home, fixed, to resume a “normal” and happy life together. In psychology, the addict is called the “identified patient” – and while that person is certainly struggling, he or she is not the only one who needs help.
Disrupted Family Systems
Addiction in one or more members of a family is often a symptom of greater family instability. When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the rest of the family must conspire together, consciously or not, to enable that person to use. The addict is very often acting out because something is wrong within the family unit, but the addict lacks the power or authority to bring it up – or the family may not know how to deal with the issue. In any case, the addict’s family must receive help for themselves in order to give the addict his/her best chance at recovery. Every member of the family needs to learn how to discuss and resolve issues and obstacles the family faces.
Family Involvement in Treatment
Cliffside Malibu has no formal “family week” as other treatment centers have. Rather, because our treatment programs are highly individualized, our psychotherapists will work with you or your loved one to decide which family members to bring for family therapy and at what point in the therapeutic process they should be included. There is no set pattern. For example, a person with substance use disorder might be highly reliant on and respectful toward a brother but may have a difficult or adversarial relationship with a father. In such a situation, we may ask the brother to be involved in the therapeutic process before the father – solely because the individual in our care needs to learn how to speak about and walk through difficult issues with the “easiest” members of the family first.
For those who do not reside in close proximity to the treatment center, family therapy can involve short-term trips to work with your loved one or, at times, Skype or other media based interactions.
The Family’s Care
While a loved one is in treatment, family members are encouraged to seek support for themselves. They must learn how to change the family dynamics that have bred or supported addiction in one or more members. By changing how the family members interact with one another, they will be able to welcome a recovered addict home and give him/her the support necessary to maintain recovery. Or, if the addict chooses not to receive treatment, the family can protect itself as a whole by learning how to face problems in a healthy way. Such familial changes can often force a person with substance use disorder into recovery, once s/he realizes that his/her acting out will no longer be tolerated by the group and that the group’s dysfunction can no longer be used to create chaos and the grounds for addiction to continue to exist.